The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page
Half of Indian girls marry under 18

A 19-year-old girl was purchased for Rs 35,000, chained and confined at a house in a Haryana village for two weeks.

The girl, a matriculate, was bought nearly a month ago by a broker who had promised her parents that she would be married into a good family. She was then brought to Panipat and sold for Rs 35,000 to Subhash, who promised to marry her.

The teenager was then taken to Porpra village in Karnal district but was kept in chains after she rejected Subhash’s marriage offer. She remained in chains till she was rescued by police.

New Delhi, Oct. 8: The Indian girl child remains as vulnerable as ever. Fifty per cent of girls in the country are married off while still minors. Most such marriages take place in Bihar followed by Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

According to a United Nations Population Fund report on adolescent health and girls’ rights, “82 million girls in developing countries now aged between 10 and 17 will be married before their 18th birthday”.

Early marriage disrupts education as well as employment opportunities that can make women economically independent. “Married girls are rarely found in schools and girls out of school rarely have much contact with their peers or people outside their families,” the report says.

India is one of the many countries which has consistently overlooked adolescent health and girls’ rights.

Releasing the UN report in Delhi today, Francois M. Farah, the organisation’s representative in India, said: “Forty per cent of AIDS cases in India are in the 15-29 age group. These are full-blown cases, which means the affected adolescents contracted the infection at least three-four years earlier.

“Socially, young women also face higher risks. They tend to have sexual relations with older men increasing the likelihood that their partners are already infected,” the report says.

“Because sex is a taboo topic in many countries, large numbers of young people do not get sufficient information or skills to use safer sex practices,” Farah said.

India is still to decide whether to include sex education in the school curriculum. A section of policymakers believes promoting use of condoms encourages promiscuity.

Farah disagreed, saying: “It is always better to inform adolescents about safe sex so that they behave in a responsible fashion.”

Communication with adolescents is a must, says S.Y. Quraishi, former secretary of youth affairs at the Centre.

In India and many other countries, parents still avoid discussing sex with their adolescent children.

The trends revealed in the UN report are worrying. “Pregnancy is a leading cause of death for young women aged between 15 and 19 worldwide,” says the report.

Women in this age group account for at least a quarter of the estimated 20 million unsafe abortions performed every year. This results in 78,000 deaths a year.

For every woman who dies during childbirth, some 15 to 30 survive but with chronic disabilities, the most devastating of which is obstetric fistula. The injury to the birth canal leaves women leaking urine or faeces.

“Its prevalence is highest in Africa and Asia. The causes include early childbearing, poverty, malnutrition, lack of education and limited access to emergency obstetric care,” the UN report says.

Email This Page